It was the kind of season that Sam St. Hilaire had never experienced.

Prior to last year, winning and success came pretty naturally for the former Miss Maine softball player.

She had been a standout pitcher and outfielder at Leavitt during a stellar high school career. She even made the transition look easy when she stepped in as a starter as a freshman in college.

But St. Hilaire quickly discovered last year that she wasn’t immune from any kind of sophomore jinx. Her second year at Delta State University proved a bit more challenging.

“It was a bit of a letdown,” St. Hilaire said. “I didn’t do as well as I hoped.”

Those struggles have helped pave the way to where St. Hilaire is now with the Statesmen. Looking poised and confident on the cover of the Delta State media guide, St. Hilaire has found her groove again.

“She came back this August with a vengeance,” Delta State coach David Kuhn said. “There was no way she was going to be out of the lineup either pitching or with her hitting.”

St. Hilaire made the transition to college look pretty smooth as a freshman. She went from being a spare starter and reliever to the Statesman’s ace. In her first start, after other pitchers had a combined record of 0-8, St. Hilaire hurled a no-hitter. She was a freshman phenom and earned Gulf South Conference Pitcher of the Week honors on numerous occasions. It made for a dazzling first impression, but also a tough act to follow.

“When you come in as a freshman and do great, it was kind of easy,” Kuhn said. “There was no pressure. She started out as the fifth pitcher. There were no expectations.”

When St. Hilaire returned home that summer, she was worn out from an active first year in college. She decided to take it easy and recuperate.

When she returned to college, she was still in shape to play but her game had some rust. It took some time to get the sharpness back.

She went 11-7 pitching but had a 4.43 earned run average in 32 appearances. Opponent batters hit .302 against her, the highest on her team.

“A lot of it was run support as far as pitching goes,” Kuhn said. “She had like four or five games that were 1-0. She had some hard-luck losses. And teams figured her out after one year. They were more patient and made her throw her pitches.”

At the plate, she had a very untypical season. She hit .250 and produced just eight runs and 15 hits.

“Hitting-wise, she wasn’t hitting like she did the year before,” Kuhn said. “She just never got in a groove. It wasn’t from a lack of work or a lack of effort.”

She saw significantly less playing time. Part of it was the quality of bats in the outfield, but it was still a scenario St. Hilaire had not experienced.

“It was different because I’m not used to sitting, but in a way I kind of deserved it,” she said.

“I think last year was a bit of a wake-up call,” Kuhn said. “She realized, ‘This isn’t going to be handed to me.’ She has the ability. Everybody here has the ability. It’s the attitude of whether you’re going to rise to the top and keep yourself there.”

St. Hilaire was determined to do that. Though she wasn’t accustomed to sitting, she knew her destiny was in her hands – and mind.

Over the summer, St. Hilaire made up for lost time. She worked hard and went back to Mississippi feeling significantly sharper and more confident.

“Last year, I was playing kind of tense,” she said. “I wasn’t letting myself go. Now I’m focused on working hard and having fun. You play better when your having fun and relaxed.”

This year she’s pitched 54 innings and is 2-4 with 12 starts and three relief appearances. Her ERA is 3.63 and her 28 earned runs is the second lowest on the team.

“None of the pitchers really have a role because it always changes,” she said. “I’ve been a starter, and I’ve come on in relief. It depends on who’s pitching well at that time.”

Offensively, she’s back to her usual self. Seeing plenty of at-bats at the top of the order, St. Hilaire is among the team leaders in most offensive categories. In 51 games, she’s batted .359 with 26 runs and 47 hits. She has an on-base percentage of .396 percent.

“She has a more business-like approach this year,” Kuhn said. “Every day she’s staying after practice and is here at 6:30 or 7 in the morning hitting before games. She had to compete and work hard, and she’s done a fabulous job.”

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